Vision Festival, Days 3-5: New York City, NY, June 13-15, 2012
One never quite knows what to expect from seemingly ad hoc meetings between improvisers. Under the moniker Eternal Unity, four Vision Festival stalwarts combined in a cooperative group. All involved had convened in various combinations over the decades. Guitarist Elliott Sharp, talking in a panel discussion earlier in the day said: "Live performance is different. It changes the air in the room." Perhaps after the Thing performance from the previous evening, the NYC contingent felt they had something to prove. Whatever the case, by the end of this first set of the night, we were breathing a very rarefied atmosphere.
It started innocuously enough. Drummer William Hooker opened by pattering softly with his brushes, soon to be joined in conversational exchange by Sabir Mateen on flute, Dave Burrell on piano and William Parker's throbbing bass. Mateen had his entire reed arsenal lined up on stage and he soon switched to clarinet, continuing the excellent interchange. Burrell watched his comrade intently, answering the reed man's phrases, pecking in the treble clef and flicking his hands over onto the knuckles in an assertive commentary. The drummer spiced his rumbling polyrhythms with vocal shouts of encouragement, but was nonetheless relatively restrained.
Drawing on countless years of negotiation of such long form improvisation, all four men were on the top of their game. Mateen, as fluent as ever, edged into the falsetto register with searing cries, escorted by Burrell's fragmented stride piano. On tenor saxophone, arguably his strongest horn, the horn man seemed inexhaustible, always able to summon one last outburst, shooting right up to the highest dog-bothering whistle, then plunging down for some gut-wrenching lows, before rebooting from bottom up. After the saxophonist signed off, Burrell took the spotlight, buoyed by the roiling drums and bass, in an excursion of lurching dissonances and angular attacks. So energetic was his playing that the Steinway was rocking on its wheels. Even in free mode Burrell's personal style, which stretches from ragtime to no time, informed his progress, as he crossed hands for a hyper-speed plink plonk, using the flats for jolting clusters and glissandos.
Eventually, the naturally evolving narrative opened out to allow Parker to display his mettle. Something in the air energized the bassist, who created a babbling bass solo where he rolled his hand back and forth across the strings, bringing to mind his notion of the bass strings as distinct parts of a drum set. Hooker reinforced the percussive intent, with complementary sharp ornamentation struck on the rims and snare. On the transition into the drum solo, he ferociously belabored his trap set, but once the initial charge was over he regrouped to develop an almost architectural structure from measured tattoos on the component parts of his kit.
Just when it looked like Hooker and Burrell were agreeing to wind down, Mateen strapped on his tenor once more. But defying expectations of further tumult, he breathed an almost bluesy soliloquy over spare chording and sweeping brushwork, briefly intense, but then concluding in an airy flourish. If every set were like this it would be exhausting, but blowouts of this nature and quality don't come along that often. Instead it formed a cathartic introduction to a varied menu.
Ivo Perelman Trio
As if their message were so imperative, Brazilian saxophonist Ivo Perelman's threesome began almost before the introduction had finished. But this wasn't a recapitulation of the earlier balls-to-the-wall strategy. Perelman has always chosen his sidemen with carejust look at the star-studded roster on his Hour of the Star (Leo, 2011) which features Matthew Shipp on piano, Joe Morris on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Tonight he had co-opted Shipp's current rhythm section of bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey, for a 45-minute set short on charts, but long on invention, which unfolded as if an inexorable organic flow.
That shared experience in the cauldron of Shipp's trio served them well, as Dickey and Bisio proved adept at locking into the South American's repeated motifs, grounding his unfettered flights. While the drummer kept himself well reined in, deploying an intricate latticework of nervy patterns, the bassist brought a manic vitality, at times thrashing his instrument as it tilted almost at the horizontal. Other times Bisio deployed a propulsive counterpoint, whether abrading the pinched strings in a circular motion, or smiting the strings with languorous, loose-limbed strokes.
Perelman's lightly keening falsetto, sprinkled with throaty growls and reiterated rhythmic hooks, at times recalled the samba link to his native Brazil. His insistent figures on the same note meant that he double-tongued more often than many other saxophonists. That, paired with his ever changing embouchure and reed-biting squeals, meant that changing expressions flitted across his face in time with the music. Counter-intuitively, the second number started more as a ballad, emblazoned with the leader's broad impasto smears and long, impassioned cries before he wove fleeting melodic fragments into his freewheeling rapture. Still searching for new timbres, even at the end, Perelman removed his saxophone mouthpiece and blew through it for a bleating finale to a well-received set.
Hamid Drake's Lhasa
Having held over the bulk of his Reggaeology band, it was no surprise that drummer Hamid Drake's new Lhasa ensemble was able to move in and out of tunes and tempo with such practiced ease. On his first trip stateside from Italy, Pasquale Mira proved an exciting addition, an inventive texturalist and soloist who employed sticks as well as mallets, and used a cloth to dampen and create a more percussive sound with no vibrato, at times reminiscent of the great Walt Dickerson. Guitarist Jeff Parker adorned the set with swinging, lyrical solos, while on trombone Jeb Bishop was a bold, brassy presence, leavening the boisterousness with passages of diaphanous multiphonics. Drake performed like a man possessed, especially on the first piece, his mentor, the late Fred Anderson's "Three On Two," which culminated in a particularly impressive outpouring where he whirled around his kit with ferocious precision, which felt almost choreographed in its feline grace.
Earlier, Connie Crothers' kaleidoscopic piano extemporization had accompanied the dance and vocals of Patricia Nicholson Parker under the banner Dangerous Women.